3D printers are much like your typical inkjet printer, except instead of putting a layer of ink on a page, they place layer upon layer of a material typically a molten layer of polymer. When completed, these layers form a 3D object. According to 3DPrinting.com, several different technologies are commonly used including: vat photo polymerization, material jetting, binder jetting, material extrusion, powder bed fusion, sheet lamination, and directed energy deposition. Thermal polymers are commonly used as the material. However, some 3D printers melt metal powder or metal wires to produce metal 3D objects.

How is 3D Print Technology Used?

3D print technology is clearly innovative. For example, bio-printing technology makes it possible to 3D print human tissue. The medical industry uses 3D printing to quickly and cheaply produce custom prosthetics. The dental industry uses 3D printers for a variety of applications such as in-house production of clear braces and orthodontic appliances, custom crowns and implants, and bridges. The automotive, aviation, and aerospace industries use 3D printers to produce prototypes and actual parts. Businesses like Nike use 3D printers to quickly produce colorful shoe prototypes at a fraction of the cost of traditional prototypes.

At first glance, 3D printing seems like a relatively clean process — and it’s fascinating to watch an object appear before your eyes. However, what you can’t see, ultrafine particles, could be harmful to your health.

What’s the Harm in Using 3D Printers?

We’re most concerned with the byproducts of melting materials at high temperatures: ultrafine particles and volatile organic compounds. The noxious fumes emitted by 3D printers are one of the first clues that you might not want to breathe them in.

A study published in Environmental Science and Technology, Emissions of Ultrafine Particles and Volatile Organic Compounds from Commercially Available Desktop Three-Dimensional Printers with Multiple Filaments, examined consumer 3D printers using molten polymer deposition technology and tested the emissions levels of ultrafine particles and volatile organic compounds from different filament materials ABS and PLA.

The study on the dangers of 3D printing found that ultrafine particle emission rates ranged from ∼108 to ∼1011 min−1 across all tested combinations. The variations were largely due to the filament material type. Volatile organic compounds emitted included caprolactam (nylon-based and imitation brick and wood filaments), styrene (ABS and high-impact polystyrene filaments), and lactide (polylactic acid filaments).

Styrene, for example, is but one potential health hazard of 3D printing as it has been classified as a possible human carcinogen. Styrene was emitted in large quantities by ABS and high-impact polystyrene filaments.

Another study, Ultrafine Particle Emissions from Desktop 3D Printers published on ScienceDirect.com, also examined particle emissions and concluded that caution should be used when operating some commercially available 3D printers in unvented or inadequately filtered indoor environments.

No one wants to breathe odiferous fumes from molten plastic or ultrafine particles that may contain known carcinogens. Some users have reported triggers in their asthma symptoms after using 3D printers. Enough questions linger about 3D printing safety, making it wise to err on the side of caution.

DualDraw’s downdraft booths are self-contained systems that provide a work surface suitable for your 3D printers. Equipped with air filtration systems, these downdraft booths capture fumes and ultrafine particles, helping to keep contain the potential health hazards before they have a chance to reach the lungs of your employees.

The verdict is still out as to the potential health effects and dangers of 3D printers both at home and in the workplace. However, early studies show there is some cause for alarm. Contact DualDraw today to learn more about air ventilation equipment and dust containment systems.